Humidifier disinfectants, suspected to have been a cause for at least dozens of deaths, were widely used in military barracks and hospitals in the early 2000s, a state-funded agency revealed Monday, raising speculation that a large number of service members could have been exposed to the chemicals.
The Special Commission on Social Disaster Investigation said it has confirmed 12 institutions affiliated with the Army, Navy, Air Force and units under the defense ministry had purchased more than 800 units of Humidifier Mate, a humidifier sterilizer produced by Aekyung Industrial Co., from 2000 to 2011.
The Korean Armed Forces Capital Hospital, for instance, bought 290 Humidifier Mates between 2007 and 2010 for use by its patients, while the Korean Armed Forces Yangju Hospital purchased 112 Humidifier Mates between 2009 and 2011 for the same purpose, the commission said.
In Oct. 2008, the Air Force Basic Military Training Wing bought 390 Humidifier Mates made by Aekyung Industrial for use at the barracks for its new conscripts.
The Air Force's 8th Fighter Wing used humidifier disinfectants produced by Oxy Reckitt Benckiser from 2007 to 2008, the commission said, adding other military users of the harmful chemicals included the Army 20th Division, the Naval Education & Training Command, the Navy Fleet Command and the Naval Academy.
The commission speculated that the actual number of military users of controversial humidifier sterilizers could be far bigger than the known cases, because many field units have not kept their procurement records intact.
The commission said it has confirmed a 30-year-old man, surnamed Lee, who had stayed at the Korean Armed Forces Yangju Hospital from Jan. 2010 to March of the same year, was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2017.
The commission plans to open a public hearing on military victims of humidifier sterilizers next Tuesday, while continuing to collect information on victims and witnesses.
"So far, no damage has been reported at the barracks and among service persons with regard to those items. But we will carry out inspections into all units, and come up with necessary measures," the defense ministry said in a release.
After such issues were raised in 2011, the military immediately banned the usage of those controversial products, it added.
The humidifier disinfectant scandal, one of the country's worst ever involving chemical consumer products, came into the spotlight after four pregnant women died of lung problems in 2011.
As of late July, more than 6,400 people were registered as victims of the humidifier sterilizer case, of whom about 1,420 have died.
The prosecution said last month it has indicted 34 people, including former company executives, for manufacturing and selling humidifier disinfectants containing toxic chemicals, wrapping up an eight-month reinvestigation into one of the worst scandals involving consumer products. The probe came after a 2011 scandal involving toxic humidifier disinfectants sold by Oxy Reckitt Benckiser rattled South Korea, leaving more than 100 people dead from lung problems. (Yonhap)